States rush to improve oil train safety

  • Article by: FREEMAN KLOPOTT , Bloomberg News
  • Updated: February 4, 2014 - 9:02 PM

Recent accidents have officials hiring inspectors and making emergency plans to address the risk as more crude oil moves by rail.

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A fireball went up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D., in December. The incident helped spur states to take new safety precautions.

Photo: Bruce Crummy • Associated Press file,

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States from California to Minnesota to Maine are hiring rail inspectors and oil-spill experts as they draw up emergency plans after trains carrying crude derailed and burst into fireballs, including a crash in Quebec that killed 47.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, is proposing a 15 percent funding boost for his response agency. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week ordered five departments to create spill disaster plans and wants to double the number of train inspectors.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton created a Cabinet-level panel that includes the commissioners of public safety, transportation and pollution control in response to accidents.

Matt Swenson, a spokesman for Dayton, said the panel, which met Tuesday and will meet again Thursday with Dayton, will consider steps being taken in other states and develop legislative and administrative recommendations to enhance Minnesota’s oversight and emergency management efforts.

“Like other states, the Dayton administration is considering … increasing the number of rail inspectors working in Minnesota, encouraging federal regulators to improve the nation’s railway safety standards and other strategies,” Swenson said.

The July disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec was followed in December by an explosion in Casselton, N.D.

Oil shipments by train have grown 400 percent since 2005, the American Railroad Association said.

Only the federal government can set rail standards. Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel and Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, both Democrats, are leading a call by U.S. mayors for a fee for companies that extract crude oil and those who consume it. The funds would be used to upgrade rail infrastructure.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last month met with officials from the railroad and oil industries, who agreed to spend 30 days examining new safety steps. Crude-by-rail accidents climbed to 108 last year from nine in 2010, the U.S. Transportation Department.

Last year, as rail cars carrying crude rolled in from Canada, emergency planners in Maine mapped how they could reach spills in the wilderness. A new state law requires rail companies to report when and how much crude they’re carrying and pay into a fund to help clean up spills.

Staff writer David Shaffer contributed to this report.

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